Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kung Fu Treachery: BLOODFIGHT (1989)

Like most kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was obsessed with martial arts movies. Kung fu, karate, tae kwon do, Chris Mitchum Fu…if you threw a kick, I was probably there watching it on video. This is why the fact that I bypassed BLOODFIGHT (aka FINAL FIGHT) on video all the time is truly bizarre. I remember seeing the Imperial VHS release with Bolo Yeung on the cover in stores. Perhaps I was just feeling elitist and didn’t want to support a BLOODSPORT knock off? Or maybe I was still reeling from the effects of Albert Pyun’s BLOODMATCH? In any case, I never watched the film until recently, thanks to the recommendation of my friend Dave aka “Bolo, Jr.”

Masahiro Kai (Yasuaki Kurata) won the World Championship of Free Fighting back in the late 1970s and can’t seem to get past his glory days, so much so that his drunken wife leaves him and he doesn’t notice. Always on the lookout for new students, he spots local gweilo tough guy John (Stuart Smith) and invites him to his gym. “Wow, I want to master that!” screams John when he watches Kai’s old footage (see pic). But John can’t break that rebel streak and he and his gang (the kind only HK movies can deliver) attack a young girl at a noodle shop and Ryu Tenmei (Simon Yam) comes to the rescue.

Masahiro is so impressed with Ryu, who was taught martial arts by his deceased father, that he asks him to join his school. Maybe this is why your school is failing, Masahiro? Because you only scout talent in back alley brawls? Anyway, Ryu refuses because he is on a basketball scholarship (bwhahahahaha!) at the local university, so Masahiro resorts to stalking Ryu. Really! Cut to a “cute” montage of Masahiro showing up everywhere Ryu goes, including public bathrooms. Creepy! Eventually John’s gang beats Ryu to a pulp so he literally crawls to Sensi Masahiro and begs him to take him on as a pupil. So what does Masahiro do? He refuses! Why you little tease! Cut to “cute” montage of Ryu showing up everywhere Masahiro goes, including public bathrooms.

Eventually Ryu is able to convince Masahiro to take him on and his training is good enough that he enters the World Championship of Free Fighting and breezes through to the finals where he faces the intimidating Chong Lee (Bolo Yeung). Chong Lee is a bit of a rebel as well since he is shown getting drunk backstage before his fight and eventually kills Ryu during the match. Whoops! This sends Masahiro on a bender that lasts two years (!) before WCFF rep John O’Brien (John Ladalski) shows up to offer the sloshed sensei a chance at revenge in a Killer vs. Victim’s Teacher showdown. Damn, is this the first time a master is avenging the death of his pupil? Anyway, Masahiro trains his ass off with John to get ready for the big fight. I wonder who wins and if there will be an amazing comeback?

Well, my 15-year-old Spidey video senses were correct at the time in that this is a BLOODSPORT knock off of the highest order. Hell, it is also set in Hong Kong and features the same tournament format and villain! You’ve heard of Bruceploitation? Well, this is Bolosploitation. BLOODSPORT was a surprise international hit and you can bet Kurata, whose production company produced this, had charismatic BLOODSPORT villain Bolo on the phone within minutes. This was made the very next year and the filmmakers make no bones about wanting to draw a comparison as they name the villain Chong Lee (he is named Chong Li in the Van Damme movie). But see Chong Lee has a cobra tattooed on his forehead here, so it is totally different.

If the knock off factor isn’t enough to amuse you, then you have the rest of the film. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the Japanese production suffers the same fate as most low budget productions of the HK era. I knew I was in for a good time during the opening training montage that shows the four fighters getting ready for their fights. Cut to a wide shot of the dressing room and they are all about two feet from each other (see pic). Also, where do they find these white folks? Seriously, it must be a requirement that if you are a white dude looking to act in an Asian production that you must have all the acting subtlety of Mantan Moreland. Stuart Smith, who is amusingly billed incorrectly as Stuart Smita, is a sight to behold. His acting is so over-the-top that it is highly amusing. To be fair, veteran white dude Ladalski is pretty good in his supporting role.

You also get a street gang that only Asian films can deliver. Tooling around the city in a Jeep with skulls and “Fuck You!” spray-painted on it, this gang is a riot. You know you are in trouble when the guy with the multi-colored pompadour is the least funny. One guy dresses in all red with a red Mohawk and carries around a chicken foot. The big gag is he gets knocked into a rooster, looks at it and goes, “Huh?” The bald guy (see pic) looks like Don Rickles with cancer and makes Smith look like Sir Laurence Olivier. Did I mention he has a back pocket torn off his jeans to reveal his bare ass with the words “Hands off” written on his skin? No joke, these guys make the gangs in Jackie Chan’s RUMBLE IN THE BRONX seem utterly realistic. Finally, you have everyone in the cast speaking English, or at least trying to. I commend Kurata for aiming high, yet it scores so low with lines pronounced like, “I have the scales to protact ewe” and “Ewe only wanta wee veng.” I also got a big kick out of a sign in the dressing room reading “Not Smoking” on it. It is funny because 1) it is not correct and 2) that a group holding an underground death tournament would take the time to make a sign like this. And how would you open a underground fighting tournament? Why with some chick body builder, two dude body builders and some girls doing aerobics on stage, of course!

So learn your lessons from me. Don't be a fool and stay in school. And when you see BLOODFIGHT, you know it is alright! Check it out. Tell them Chong Lee sent ya.

1 Reactions:

  1. I'm a sucker for all those underground/kickboxing/fight to the death type of films from the late 80's to mid 90's. Might have to check this one out.


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